The AFC North is home to reigning AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, but every team in the division has holes on the depth chart that could keep them from competing for a championship in 2011. Below, you will find the AFC North 2011 Team Needs for this year’s NFL Draft.
The Browns and Bengals are rebuilding but could surprise if they can find enough diamonds in the draft. The Steelers and Ravens are both just a piece or two away from bringing a Lombardi trophy back to the AFC North. This year’s draft should be even more interesting, as the uncertainty of labor negotiations will affect free agency and player contracts.
Hell will freeze over when the Ravens don’t have a statistically strong defense. They were exposed a bit in 2010 however, as their physical play up front couldn’t solve all of their secondary issues. The Ravens will have to look in the draft for a Day One starter and some heir replacements for aging, but key, veterans. The offense is still trying to find an identity. While some feel it takes a new receiver, others feel the offensive line is to blame.
The Ravens only returning quarterback has been upset with his current contract situation. Joe Flacco says he feels disrespected and feels there is a lack of trust within the organization, because he has yet to receive a long term extension. This has much more to do with Haloti Ngata’s contract situation and the effects of the lockout than anything, but Flacco is going to have these hurt feelings until the day he does extend his current contract.
Will that force the Ravens to consider drafting a Colin Kaepernick type earlier in the draft? Probably not, although it makes for good TV. The Ravens will have to either draft a quarterback or pick up a veteran in free agency to back up Flacco. Either way, don’t expect the Ravens to put a lot of money into that move. (4/9)
Willis McGahee has been rumored to have spent his last season in Baltimore, and the Ravens will be forced to look for a reliable backup to Ray Rice. The Ravens could use a bruising back that is a bit bigger to compliment Rice, but know that they have a franchise quarterback, solid wide receiver, a pretty darn good defense and a Pro-Bowl running back starting for them. In other words, the Ravens won’t go making any big splashes on a running back in the draft.
The only way I see the Ravens taking a running back in this draft is if a player like Mikel LeShoure falls to them in the fourth round, and since no back of that caliber will fall that low, you can rule it out. (4/9)
Last year, it seemed the Ravens made a big splash in the receiving department and that they would be set at the position for some time. Picking up Anquan Boldin was a blockbuster move, and it seemed that Boldin alone was enough to make every “expert” call for a Ravens Super Bowl. Now, all the same experts are saying wide receiver is one of the team’s biggest needs.
I disagree, again. Boldin is one of the best receivers in football, and Derrick Mason is still posting better numbers than most. Acquiring Donte’ Stallworth didn’t work out, and TJ Houshmandzadeh may not be wearing purple next season, so drafting a receiver will definitely help the Ravens. There are other needs more worthy of a pick in the first three rounds, however. Look for the Ravens to go with a speed receiver no earlier than Round 3. (6/9)
Todd Heap has had a great—yet injury filled—career that is likely coming to an end. Heap missed essentially four games last season, and he just turned 31. The Ravens prepared for the end of the Heap era in last year’s draft, however. Oregon product Ed Dickson was drafted in the third round in 2010 and has speed that can kill. The Ravens will still have Heap’s solid contribution on the field next, albeit for only so long, and Dickson will benefit from another year in the NFL and should be a much better option for Flacco than he was. (1/9)
The Ravens’ offensive line is almost as weak as the Pittsburgh Steelers'. They have very little depth and aren’t getting the production they were hoping for from left tackle Michael Oher. Oher has been rumored as moving back to the right side, but the Ravens will then need to find a new LT, the most important position on the line. The Ravens could also use some fresh legs at guard, and Center Matt Birk is 34.
The Ravens are close to the Super Bowl and they know it, so don’t expect them to pour all of their picks into the line when they know just a few extra play makers at certain positions will put them over the edge. I expect the Ravens to go OL in Round 2, and then work with what they have until the 2012 NFL draft. (9/9)
There is no way the Ravens will let Haloti Ngata leave Baltimore; it is critical for their championship chase that they have a mammoth like Ngata on the line, seated directly in front of Ray Lewis. In fact, I would dare say the longevity of Ray Lewis’ career is directly proportional to the length of Ngata’s contract with the Ravens. Ngata is the only big name player the team will lose on the defensive line and they are still hoping good things will come from Terrence Cody. Don’t expect the Ravens to go D-Line until late in the draft when they are looking for best available. (3/9)
If it were an attribute the team was drafting instead of a position, the Ravens would go for speed in rounds one through seven. The linebacking corps on the Ravens is still one of the best in the business—as long as Ray Lewis is walking out of the tunnel. Lewis won't be there forever, though, so the Ravens have been rumored to be looking for his heir replacement. I actually expect the Ravens to go the way of the Steelers in last year’s draft and to hit the LB position hard from beginning to end. (7/9)
Cornerback was the Achilles heel of this continuously stellar defense last year. Injuries afflicted the secondary unit in Baltimore and the team will have to add depth in the secondary. Ed Reed will go down as one of the game’s best safeties, but Reed isn’t far from retirement. Reed has been rumored as close to retiring for about a year now, with injuries and family issues dominating this past season and offseason.
I fully expect the Ravens to look for a game breaking CB in Round 1 and to spend another high choice on the secondary—either safety or cornerback. The Ravens have been linked to a few different comebacks in the first round, the most common name being Brandon Harris from Miami. Other options would be Jimmy Smith of Colorado and Aaron Williams of Texas. (9/9)
Billy Cundiff was one of the best kickoff men in football last year and should repeat that performance with the new rule changes. Sam Koch is also one of the better punters in the NFL. No need to add special teams in this year’s draft. (1/9)
Nick Sero is a contributor for TheSportsCannon.com, a fantasy sports website specializing in football and baseball. Quit sitting at the bottom of your league’s leaderboard and load up with information from the Sports Cannon.